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HolidayBuyer's Guide
Tablets

The Nexus 9 is great, but give me the iPad Air 2

After spending a week with the Nexus 9, I think I'll stick to the iPad for now. But don't get me wrong, it's a great tablet, just not for me.

Josh Miller/CNET

As someone who has been using the various versions of the iPad since the original, the Google Nexus 9 comes across as a breath of fresh air. Made by HTC, the Nexus 9 showcases the quality build and design prowess of the Taiwanese company while running on a powerful Nvidia Tegra K1 processor.

I spent a week with the Nexus 9 and came away impressed with the tablet, although it wasn't enough to convince me to switch from the iPad Air 2 -- but more on that later. Let's talk about the Nexus 9 first.

While the Nexus 9 has great hardware -- it's the operating system running it, Android Lollipop 5.0 , that makes the tablet stand out. It has a beautiful new design -- Google calls it Material design -- and it makes everything look sleek and attractive in a way that iOS doesn't.

Animations are slick and fluid, and while some Android apps haven't yet applied the design guidelines, the general UI is brilliant. I love how certain parts slide away or into place and I love how you can double-tap to turn on the screen (though LG did this first). For more, be sure to check out our Android Lollipop 5.0 guide .

As highlighted by my colleague Xiomara Blanco's review of the Nexus 9 , HTC's BoomSound front-facing speakers are loud and clear, and that's simply great because you don't have to awkwardly cup your hand over the speakers unlike with the iPad.

But this doesn't make it better than the iPad Air 2. Before you call me an Apple shill -- hear me out.

The iPad Air 2 is much thinner -- and while it usually isn't something I would consider, once you've used both you'll find that the grip on the Air is much better despite the rubbery material of the Nexus 9. The brushed-metal aluminum surface is also a lot nicer to hold, and fingerprint smudges aren't as visible, unlike on the Nexus 9.

But these are merely aesthetic reasons, you decry. Of course; there's just one major issue I have with the Nexus 9, and it's how hot it gets when you are using it for gaming. The heat is mostly centered on the top of the tablet, which is fine if you're playing games in portrait mode.

However, if you're racing cars on Asphalt 8, your left or right hand will be gripping the tablet in landscape mode. And it gets hot, really uncomfortably hot, especially if you're not in an air-conditioned environment. The iPad Air 2 puts the heat toward the top right side, making it a lot more manageable.

My last bugbear is really why I can't switch to Android on a tablet (I use an Android phone 90 percent of the time). Apps don't seem to scale properly, and it's still too early to see apps that are optimized for the Nexus 9's Tegra K1 processor.

In games like Asphalt 8, the graphics just aren't on par with the Metal-enhanced version on iOS. I know that the Nexus 9 is a lot more powerful, but until the developers can tweak the app to fully take advantage of its capabilities, iOS still wins here.

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I'll let you guess which one's the iPad version and which one's running on the Nexus 9. Screenshot by Aloysius Low/CNET
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Aloysius Low/CNET

Furthermore, given that there are just so many different types of tablets and chipsets on the market, it's almost impossible to properly optimize an app for them all, unlike Apple's fixed offerings. While fragmentation as a word has seemed to vanish from general usage with regard to Android these days, it's still an issue you may occasionally run into -- my review of the Meizu MX4 and its odd 5:3 aspect ratio screen, which made some apps buggy comes to mind.

I'll be honest here, it's not like some of these issues can't be fixed -- and who knows, the next Nexus tablet may actually be the one that takes the crown from Apple. For now though, the iPad and the Apple ecosystem just seems to be the better one for tablets, though when it comes to smartphones, the jury's still out.